The Nature Of The Bible And Its Message -- By: William E. Hull
FM 3:2 (Spring 1986) p. 3
The Nature Of The Bible And Its Message
Pastor, First Baptist Church
The use of the Bible must be determined by the nature of the Bible. That is, what the Bible means must be based on what the Bible is. The supreme test of any method of interpretation is whether it clarifies the reality of the Bible as it actually exists. We have not been called to speculate on what the character of Scripture should have been but to make sense of Scripture exactly as God has given it to us. The basic contention of this essay is that the reality of the Bible may be subsumed under three rubrics: (1) its context as history, (2) it content as literature, and (3) its concern as theology. From each of these essential dimensions of its nature we shall attempt to define a controlling criterion by which to understand its message.
The Context Of The Bible As History
The most fundamental fact about the Bible is that it records what “came to pass” at particular times and places in history. Essentially, the Scriptures understand such history as a dialogue between God and man in the language of events.1 To say that “the Word became flesh” (Jn. 1:14) is to say that God’s revelation stepped out on the stage of human affairs. Therefore, there is no way to take the Bible seriously without also taking seriously the history in which it happened.2 By doing so, we impose a structure of historicality on Scripture; that is, we obligate ourselves to use a rigorously objective method to discover “what actually happened” and what it meant to the original participants regardless of how we may feel about it today.
In the divine-human encounter through the events of biblical history, however, we must also note that the character of the given situation into which the Word was thrust determined the shape it assumed and the way it was understood. For example, when the story of Jesus took root in various Christian centers, it was transmuted into at least four distinctly different written forms, each an attempt to make the message relevant in the matrix where it was planted. Although there was only one “gospel” (euaggelion) from God, it was taken down “according to” (kata) various interpreters of its significance (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John). Again, Paul was determined to preach the only true gospel (Galatians 1:6–9), yet his formulation of the faith in Galatians and Romans differed markedly from that in Colossians and Ephesians. The explanation lies not in some developmental principle in Pauline thought, but ra...
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